People experiencing food insecurity often rely on the emergency food system to have enough food to eat. Unfortunately, because pantries and soup kitchens are often underfunded and rely on donations, the food they provide is regularly highly processed and contains excessive amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. This highly processed food retains very little of the nutrients humans need to stay healthy. It is not a coincidence that individuals who rely on food pantries often suffer from chronic health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
“Just providing food is not enough. Pantries, soup kitchens, and other emergency food resources need to prioritize nutrition over calories and begin taking steps towards sustainable and nutrient dense diets,” says Natalie Varrallo, Preble Street Food Programs Director.
At the Preble Street Food Security Hub, which provides approximately 80,000 meals/month to Mainers experiencing homelessness and hunger, we are working to do just that. By growing partnerships with local farms, we are working to ensure that the people who eat our food are receiving as many nutrients as possible, even when all they want is a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“We make our peanut butter in–house with just peanuts and a little bit of salt, and also our own strawberry jam with strawberries from local farms,” says Natalie. “Last year we were able to process and preserve enough strawberries so that we were able to continue making strawberry jam throughout the winter. Our goal for this year is to preserve enough local tomatoes and continue making our own tomato sauce throughout the year. The sauce we serve people is locally grown with much higher nutrient content, including being higher in lycopene and Vitamin C.”
From BBQ chicken (braised with house– made barbecue sauce!) and roasted veggies, to fish tacos topped with homemade slaw, to turkey sandwiches garnished with beet relish, the chefs and volunteers at the Food Security Hub are ensuring every meal is filled with love and nutrition.
But this is only one piece of the puzzle. The United States has relied on the emergency food system for over 50 years, but the emergency has not gone away. In Maine alone, 200,000 people are food insecure, including one in five children. We must shift to long-term sustainable solutions to improve hunger. Read more about the future of Food Security in Maine.
(pictured: Preble Street Food Programs staff at the Food Security Hub)